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Thinking with missionaries : discourses of difference in India and southern Africa, c. 1840-1895

This thesis explores the construction of difference in colonial discourse through the lens of the London Missionary Society c. 1840-1895. Writings produced by missionaries to India and southern Africa are used to explore the varied construction of difference across colonial sites. The central argument is that the missionary commitment to human universalism was mediated through understandings of cultural, gender, and racial difference. The thesis is structured around three important themes in missionary writing. Part one, 'Families and Households', examines the relationship between gendered domesticity and 'civilisation'. It discusses the idealisation of the missionary family, the denigration of indigenous 'home life' and the ambiguities posed to such a division by colonial experiences – from inter-racial sexuality to domestic service. Part two, 'Sickness and the Embodiment of Difference', considers the embodiment of difference in missionary thinking. It argues that metaphors evoking sickness were used to pathologise 'heathenism', and explores how medical missionaries drew on the shared language of spiritual and bodily sickness to position themselves as 'healers' to 'needy' Africans and Indians. Given this association between sickness and otherness, it then explores how missionaries dealt with their own experiences of illness overseas. Part three looks at 'Violence and Racialisation'. It argues that violence operates as a racialising mechanism in missionary thinking: from sati, to cannibalism, to tribal warfare, missionaries used accounts of violence to 'demonstrate' that 'heathenism' was 'cruel', 'violent' and 'different'. This is juxtaposed with a consideration of missionary reflections on colonial violence perpetrated by Europeans. Each theme demonstrates a complex interplay between self and other in missionary thinking. Each suggests that while principally articulating itself in terms of spirituality, missionaries also understood difference through the body. Each theme was manifested differently in India and southern Africa, suggesting that colonial discourse was significantly differentiated across sites of empire.
Date January 2009
CreatorsCleall, E. R.
PublisherUniversity College London (University of London)
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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